How do we stay motivated in the face of adversity? When the trip is going poorly, you are way too hot, or cold, or exhausted, or half-way lost, or scared, how do you keep a strong outlook and good attitude? Think of your position as having three components.


1. Ability. This trait is the base, the foundation, like a table top. It is what you are capable of doing, physically, mentally and emotionally. This attribute is built slowly and firmly, over many years. Every time you walk up stairs instead of taking the elevator. Every time you go running instead of watching television. Every time you go backpacking when it is raining instead of staying home you are building your cardiovascular and pulmonary ability. You are toughening yourself to the real world of bad weather. Like a thick sheen of shellac on a table top, built up of many microscopically thin layers painted on over several weeks; like sedimentary rock, built up from millions of years of mud accreting on the floor of an ancient ocean; you are building your base ability. This ability is far stronger than you imagine. If you miss a trail fork and have to hike 10 miles back to the parking lot instead of the 3 miles that you planned, of course you can do it. You wont die. If you dressed for 40 degree weather and have to run through 10 degree weather to the next campsite to keep from freezing before you jump into your sleeping bag, of course you can do it. You wont die. If you have to paddle through a Class V rapid when you thought the river only contained Class IIs and IIIs, of course, you can do it. You wont die.

2. Determination. This trait is the engine, the motor that pushes you forward. It is what you make yourself do when you have the choice to do less, or quit. Think of boldness or bravery. This attribute is built with strength of will. It too is built over time, and to a small degree is dependent on ability. If your determination exceeds your ability, then you may die! But that negative association is exceedingly rare. Most of us are too smart to do something deadly. To a larger degree, determination is not directly dependent on ability, but is the answer to vacillation between two choices, both of which are well below our true level of ability. Either choice is relatively safe we just dont want to have to suffer, or work exceedingly hard for awhile.

3. Attitude. This trait is what we feel like, and what other people experience when they are around us. It is like a scarf, fluttering over the engine, which is sitting on the table. This attribute is built anew every moment. It is the positive or negative - vibe we give off. It helps other persons around us realize their ability, and fuels their determination. Like a squirt of ether in the carburetor, or high test gas in the tank, a positive attitude can jump start our own determination, or keep our engine running at a higher RPM.

To help remember this system, substitute the word boldness for determination. That yields the acronym ABA. This acronym is similar to Abba, the ancient middle-eastern language word for father which just happens to be made up of the first two letters of the alphabet, doubled and reversed. So, the next time you are anguishing over whether to go on a difficult trip, or whether to cut it short and head back to the parking lot early, or whether to give in to your baser feelings and start complaining, think of your father. Silently ask for his strength. [This situation can have religious overtones, which you are free to associate based on your own beliefs.] If you will trust the fact that your abilities exceed your understanding of them by, say, 400%; if you keep going; if you show a happy spirit; then you will have greater accomplishments and more pride in their doing.

Bob Laney

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Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.